The past three years has seen the exponential growth of spam or unsolicited junk e-mail, nearly doubling every year.
In 2002, spam comprised 25 per cent of all e-mail messages. It swelled to 40 per cent in 2003.
But by mid-2004, 60 per cent of all the billions of e-mail messages flying about in cyberspace were spam, says a Trend Micro study.
Spam has turned from being a mere nuisance to a major problem for most enterprise networks and has spelled huge financial losses running into billions of dollars for corporations.
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The sheer volume of spam has directly affected productivity, eaten up precious bandwidth and generally wasted valuable time, which could have been spent on more productive pursuits.
Based on received spam samples, Trend Micro categorises most spam mails that enter the inbox as follows:
- Commercial products (mostly products and services for sale)
- Financial (e.g. mortgage and refinancing, credit revaluating, investments including stocks, gambling opportunities)
- Fraud (phishing operations, money scams, multi-level marketing and get-rich-quick schemes)
- Medical (e.g. beauty products including anti-ageing and weight loss drugs, organ enhancing drugs or enlarging operations, online pharmacists and door-to-door delivery)
- Personal (e.g. mail-order brides and dating, university diplomas and degrees, life insurance offers, car warranty, work from home schemes)
Majority of the spam mails for 2004 are written in English, while a considerable number are also written in other languages.
What is spam?
Spam is the unwanted e-mail messages that you find in your mail box. It is primarily electronic junk mail sent to your e-mail account or even your cellphone.
How to secure yourself from spam
Various methods to save yourself from incoming spam exist. These include:
- Using spam-filtering software. Trend Micro, Symantec, Computer Associates, Sophos (Satcom), McAfee, Netscreen, Prime Infotec, GajShield Infotech and Websense provide specialised anti-spam solutions in the Indian market.
- A spam filter is a piece of software that sorts incoming e-mail messages and blocks those that it thinks are spam. While filtering can be very useful, it's not perfect as sometimes filters fail to identify spam-and they mistakenly block a genuine, non-spam message. Adjusting the filter settings can help minimise these risks. To prevent this one can also choose to direct spam into a special folder set aside for reviewing all messages that the software filter tags as spam.
- Upgrading your Internet security to ensure that spammers can't send spam via your computer.
- Never reply to a spam message and never click on any links, especially 'unsubscribe' links in such messages because then you give yourself away as a real user and thus leave yourself open to be spammed even more.
Being aware of spam and of ways to secure yourself too helps curb the menace.
- You should never buy anything through an unsolicited e-mail. By buying through such messages, you help keep such business economically viable.
- Instantly delete unsolicited e-mails, for such messages can also harm your machine by spreading viruses or worms.
- When you send e-mails to many people at the same time, use the BCC (blind copy) field so that the recipients are unable to see the other addresses. This also helps curb spamming.
The government too can help curb spam by enacting legislation that punishes offenders.
Don't give out your e-mail ID on instant messengers, chat rooms, et cetera.
A survey by ReleMail, a Cody, WY, an e-mail monitoring and certification service, says that 87 per cent of Internet users fear e-mail newsletters generate spam. The study says that 83 per cent of Net users avoid subscribing to an e-mail newsletter because they are not sure if they can trust the publisher, and 91 per cent say they would do business only with organisations that stick to ethical e-mail practices and respect their privacy.
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